Crossing Boundaries

Program gives employees the power to reach across agency lines and put ideas in place.

The Defense Intelligence Agency's Knowledge Laboratory works to change behaviors from Cold War norms to those that foster agile networked collaboration and rapid integration of knowledge. It focuses on getting people to work together-sharing their research and analysis while it's in progress, not just when projects are finished. It also helps people overcome their tendency to hold on to information as if it belonged to them, since government cannot afford to behave this way anymore.

A model for agencies governmentwide that struggle to break down organizational barriers and inspire solutions, the lab celebrates employees who promote collaboration. Nearly 200 initiatives have been launched in less than two years by employee volunteers through the lab's experimental program called Crossing Boundaries. Developed from the lessons and insights gained since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, these initiatives have shown that as the flow and sharing of knowledge has increased, so has the agency's effectiveness.

Launched in May 2006, Crossing Boundaries is a forum in which employees can present solutions directly to the DIA director, Lt. Gen. Michael Maples. It includes monthly sessions designed to address organizational problems and prompt immediate feedback from agency leaders and employees.

Crossing Boundaries eliminates the need to go through the chain of command to present complex solutions.

The program gives employees the opportunity to collaborate across organizational lines, from the analysis directorate to acquisition. It empowers them to take action to improve the organization without micromanaging or restrictions from agency leaders.

Employees who submit ideas become owners of the solution. If their ideas are deemed worthy of pursuit, then Maples gives them permission to act as agents for change. They work with the staff and line organizations that have a stake in their solutions to determine their viability and develop a business plan. One employee, for example, launched a pilot program to revamp DIA's time and attendance reporting system, networking with human resources and payroll services staff to identify improvements.

By the end of January, 197 such solutions had been recommended, 73 of which resulted in positive change. A little more than 70 ideas are still in progress. Only 5 percent were declined-a testament to the value of employee involvement in organizational change.

The Crossing Boundaries concept requires a senior executive who will interact with employees and who has faith in their capabilities. Another critical element is a team that can guide idea submitters through their journey. The Knowledge Lab Crossing Boundaries Team provides that support by coaching idea owners on the steps to take and issues to address.

As the program matures, employees have been more likely to share their perspectives on a problem or solution, often offering to contribute to the research. Sometimes idea submitters discover that a similar initiative is under development or already in place. These interactions build a network of professionals-and a change in behaviors that fosters collaboration.

The latest phase of the program is to transfer governance from senior executives to a representative body called the Crossing Boundaries Council, which includes members from all DIA organizations. Spreading the ownership once held by a few has boosted enthusiasm among employees who want to help wherever they can. That can go a long way toward making any agency a true knowledge-based organization.

Adrian "Zeke" Wolfberg is director of the Knowledge Laboratory at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

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